Raiders Inside Slant

Not even Barret Robbins was willing to speculate that his return to the starting lineup was the catalyst for the Raiders' offensive outburst -- their first of the year including exhibition games.<BR><BR>

"I'm not going to sit here and do that," the Oakland Raiders center said after the team nearly doubled its scoring average and gained more than 400 yards for the first time in 15 games dating back to last November.

"I don't think it is fair to anybody. I know everybody out there raised their level of play and it helped us to win. As long as we keep doing that we are going to be a better football team."

And yet, there was something about the return of Robbins. Some have suggested Robbins gives quarterback Rich Gannon a comfort zone. Others believe his size and physical style makes a difference. A third opinion says as a traffic controller in the middle of the offense, he is unmatched.

Coach Bill Callahan said Robbins graded out "very good. His play was outstanding and everything that he did, from lining up, communication, calls, double calls, new directional calls on audibles, allowed us to make a big play on Charlie Garner's touchdown run."

He was also involved in the audible and protection calls he made on Alvis Whitted's touchdown reception. Those two touchdowns brought the Raiders from a 31-17 deficit to 31-24 and to tie the game and send it into overtime.

But beyond his apparent effect on the team's offense, there was the aspect of personal redemption. Robbins was making his first start since walking out on the club two days prior to the Super Bowl in January. In between, he has gone through counseling for alcoholism and treatment for bipolar disorder.

He admitted to excitement being back in a position he was unsure he would ever get the chance to return to.

"It was also a calm for me, too," he said. "It's something I have done for a long time and something I love to do. Getting out there where I could exhale and get away from all the extra stuff -- the questions and all the stuff that has gone along with this comeback and made it so hard.

"It was kind of my time to do what I do. It's a new start for me, it really is. I believe that and I am just excited about where I can go."


--LB Bill Romanowski will proceed with further tests for repeated concussions this week. He is uncertain whether he will be cleared to practice but he is suffering from post-concussion syndrome and it caused his consecutive game streak to end at 243.

--LB Travian Smith replaced Romanowski in the lineup. A six-year veteran, he made several key plays to help the Raiders rally in their rush defense. He has not been told whether he will start this week.

--RT Lincoln Kennedy has a tear in his left calf and missed his second game in a career that started in Oakland in 1996. The other was also a torn calf, but in the other leg. He said he hoped to play this week in Chicago but conceded that replacement Langston Walker played well.

--T Langston Walker was given blocking help from a tight end, but coach Bill Callahan said as it turned out, he didn't need it.

--RB/KR Ronney Jenkins has been on and off crutches and is wearing a special boot to support his injured ankle. He was nowhere close to being ready to play last week and should be considered a longshot this week, too.

--WR Jerry Porter (hernia) expects to begin practicing this week and his goal is to face Chicago. That expectation is probably overly optimistic, however. Doctors originally said he'd be out 6-to-8 weeks. The Chicago game will mark the fourth week.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wouldn't give too much stock to it. It was a great feeling but talk to me after about four or five more games. If we do it consistently then I am happy ... but I've got to see more." -- LG Frank Middleton on the overtime victory.



PASSING OFFENSE: A minus -- The last 15 minutes of the game the Raiders put on a clinic. Gannon threw for 163 yards and the team scored 17 points. Receivers Jerry Rice (7-for-118) and Tim Brown (6-for-110) had their most productive day as teammates because San Diego played man coverage. So much for them being too old to get separation. Pass blocking was just OK.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The stage was set for it, but the "changes" coach Bill Callahan promised did not include an excess of running. Barret Robbins was back at center but there weren't always holes up the gut. With a measured approach, the Raiders gained 120 yards in 24 carries for a healthy average of 5.0. Garner's 24-yard touchdown run sent the game into overtime.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- San Diego went into the game without four of their key receivers and still managed to hit the Raiders for 22 receptions, 208 yards and two touchdowns. The no-name receivers had 11 catches for 154 yards -- and that doesn't count a LaDainian Tomlinson touchdown pass to quarterback Drew Brees. Some of the same communication problems that surfaced in Denver were still present.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The only reason is it not an F is the fact that late in the game, the Raiders finally got a collar on LaDainian Tomlinson. Up until the late stages, he was having a career day (143 yards by halftime). The Raiders had difficulty with gap control in the wake of down blocks. With all San Diego's injuries, the Raiders should have only had to concentrate on one thing that could beat them: Tomlinson. They failed.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A minus -- Shane Lechler's punting continues to defy reason. He had a 73-yard kick -- his NFL best -- that died at the 1. Sebastian Janikowski's game-winning field goal made him 8-for-8 on the year. Several short kickoffs, however, gave San Diego excellent field position. Neither team did much in the return game.

COACHING: B plus -- According to Rich Gannon, the play calls got to the field in time this week. That was a problem in previous games. San Diego was a rarity -- they didn't play copycat pass defense. They stuck with their man schemes. The Raiders saw that and attacked.

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